Are Women Better Drivers?

Vehicles heads south on interstate 93 over the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge moments after span leading to new underground highway through downtown Boston was opened to traffic Saturday, Dec. 20, 2003, in Boston. The southbound section of the bridge and tunnel is the last stretch of major construction on the city's multi-billion-dollar "Big Dig" project. AP

Fasten your seat belts - the battle of the sexes is revisiting oh-so-familiar territory, with some interesting results.

Are women better drivers than men? If so, do women's hormones give them an advantage behind the wheel?

It's possible, British researcher Amarylis Fox says in a news release. She notes the results of a study she and her colleagues recently conducted.

The study included a small group of healthy young adults -- 20 women and 22 men aged 18-35. They took tests of spatial memory, planning, attention, motor control, and rule learning.

Women consistently outscored men in learning rules and shifting attention. Those skills are helpful for drivers, notes Fox. She works at the U.K.'s University of Bradford School of Pharmacy.

The findings were presented in London at the 196th Meeting of the Society for Endocrinology.

Estrogen Behind the Wheel

"This study demonstrates that tasks requiring mental flexibility favor women over men, an area previously not considered to elicit strong sex differences," Fox says in a news release. "Driving could be a good example of how this is applied to everyday life."

Fox says that estrogen -- women's main sex hormone -- may make a difference in those areas.

"Our study suggests that estrogens may positively influence neuronal activity in the frontal lobes, the area of the brain stimulated by tasks of attention and rule learning, which could explain the female advantage when performing these tasks," she says.

No one actually drove in Fox's study. The researchers didn't ask anyone to drive across town, navigate a jam-packed highway, parallel park, or ask for directions.

Instead, they mainly wanted to see if the tests they used could detect different patterns in mental skills between the sexes.

Since the study was small and didn't directly test driving, it doesn't settle the issue of sex differences in driving.

Next, Fox and colleagues plan to study mental skills throughout the menstrual cycle in healthy women and women with schizophrenia.


Sources:196th Meeting of the Society for Endocrinology, London, Nov. 7-9, 2005. News release, Society for Endocrinology.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
© 2005, WebMD Inc. All rights reserved

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